Patricia O'Connor has been appreciating and working with people on the Autism spectrum, particularly people with Aspergers Syndrome, for many years. They are frequently brilliant, focussed and gifted with great attention to detail.

But, just as frequently they are challenged with social relataionships. They are sometimes anti social, and usually very very anxious. Often, despite their high I.Q.s they have trouble receiving and expressing information verbally. Conversation is painful. Most have some issue with communication.

Knowing this, and appreciating the potential, Pat went out on her own limb last fall and opened her centre at 45 Maple AVE in Barrie. Integrated Autism Consulting offers all kinds of programs for people on the Autism Spectrum (which now includes Aspergers in its definition). Here she offers one-on-one counselling; family consulting and activity planning; a social club for inter-active events; lifestyle programs and the chance for people to come together in a meaningful way.

"Our social club is for people who can manage themselves on their own for two hours," she explains, saying she's developed a membership price and tries to be cost effective with all her programs.

Last year, Pat developed a 12 session pilot program for young adults and offered it at Georgian College. She had 12 participants. As a result of its success, she has just sold out programs in Kingston (at St Lawrence College), Ottawa (Algonquin) and Barrie (Georgian). Because all of the participants are interested in post secondary education, Pat holds these sessions in colleges just to increase familiarity and comfort level.

With a grant from the Ministry of Trade, Economic Development, Employment and Infrastructure, Pat has been able to train other program leaders and sees this as the potential for something far greater. In fact, the Barrie course sold out so quickly, she has a waiting list for her next program already.

Called Transition to Life, the 12 week program provides exposure to school, opportunity to access social events at her centre, building and maintaining relationships, understanding social nuances, having the opportunity to volunteer in business activities, improving a negative self concept. "We focus on planning, organizing, goal setting, prioritizing. They learn how to schedule. We have a night on emotional regulation and anxiety reductions, healthy relationships and sexuality.

With a $400 donation from the family and the remainder of funds from the ministry, Pat also offers two hours of individual counselling to each participant each week. At those private sessions she works with clients to tackle their individual challenges. Review and re-focus, brainstorming and problem solving is all part of the private counselling.

She works with anxious families, too.

"I've incorporated employment skills into every week and through the program, all participants will have a volunteer or paid position. That really helps their resume."

Pat wishes she could reach the business community just to ask that they let people volunteer. She'll support a client in activities that helps them get engaged in positive experiences in the community, things like computer data entry, office tasks like filing, sorting, shredding, organizing and labelling, stocking retail items, warehouse work, behind-the-scenes work. "While they're not that great in customer service, they are fabulous at repetitive jobs. For instance, I have a client who graduated in computer science and has an IQ of 160...there are lots of things he could do."

So what's the result? Confidence, job or volunteer experience, ability to make friends and keep them, understanding communication, setting goals with a game plan.

These young people (aged 18 to 28) will also be able to access activities at Pat's centre (which is open to a much broader age range)...art, cooking, transportation, life skills that make a difference.

Interested? Pat O'Connor. 705 252-3114. www.integratedautismconsulting.com

This is an idea whose time has come. In fact, it's long overdue. Thanks, Pat!

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